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Hong Kong should fully regain status as global aviation hub by end of year: IATA

Hong Kong should fully regain status as global aviation hub by end of year: IATA
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Hong Kong should fully regain status as international aviation hub by end of year, global airline body says

The head of a global airline association remains upbeat about Hong Kong fully regaining its status as an international aviation hub by the end of this year, even though the city’s flag carrier had pushed back its target of restoring capacity to pre-pandemic levels to early 2025.

Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), told the Post in Dubai on Tuesday that he went from being pessimistic to optimistic over Hong Kong’s ability to recover its aviation hub status after seeing the speed with which Cathay Pacific Airways rebuilt itself.

“I was quite pessimistic [before]. And that pessimism was driven by what we’d seen happening to Hong Kong, which we didn’t see in most of the parts of the world,” he said, referring to the city shutting itself off from international travellers and the carrier halting most of its operations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Hong Kong was probably the most affected major hub airport, and Cathay the most affected major hub airline … So it’s been a tough job for Hong Kong, much tougher than I think in other parts of the world.

“And restarting their operations from zero is much more complex than other airlines have faced.”

In July last year, IATA revised its own projection for Hong Kong’s aviation recovery and forecast the city would reach pre-pandemic passenger levels by the end of 2024, three years earlier than previously predicted.

But Cathay has been pushing back its target of restoring capacity to pre-pandemic to early 2025 from the last quarter of this year after being hit by flight cancellations. The company cancelled 786 flights between last December and February – more than 4 per cent of the total for the period.

IATA director general has said Hong Kong has recovered stronger and faster than expected, particularly on the cargo side of the business. Photo: Reuters

“So I remain optimistic now that Hong Kong can recover its position … So I’ve been impressed with the way Hong Kong has recovered, and we remain optimistic that they can recover their position.

“So Hong Kong has recovered stronger and faster than expected, particularly on the cargo side of the business, which is clearly very important to the airport.”

Walsh pointed out that passenger recovery had been accelerating, and Hong Kong had “the potential to get there by the end of this year”.

Hong Kong International Airport has retained its position as the world’s busiest cargo airport, though the volume of goods last year still fell short of pre-pandemic levels. It registered a 3.3 per cent year-on-year increase in cargo volume to 4.3 million tonnes.

Cathay chairman Patrick Healy told the Post on Monday that by the time the carrier reached full capacity by early next year, the number of destinations would be increased from the present 80 to 90, and only then would it start looking at other locations such as the Middle East.

The company earlier reported a HK$9.78 billion (US$1.3 billion) profit, its first in four years, after a net loss of HK$6.62 billion in 2022. The profit was Cathay’s largest since 2010, when the figure hit HK$14 billion.

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